Entry completed, training had been going well, but I nearly didn’t make the start line due to a torn calf in January which took 4 weeks out of my training. But some great physio got me back on the trails and more determined than ever to become a Flinger. The Fling is different from many ultras in that you have to be self-supported and provide your own drop-bags with food and drink at the check points at 20, 27, 34 and 41 miles, which means thinking carefully about what your fuel and hydration needs might be and what you might feel like to fulfil them. I found Marc Laithwaite’s series on this topic on The Endurance Store website really helpful in planning this aspect of the race rather than a completely random selection of stuff. Each drop bag had 500ml flat coke, rice pot, a fruit pouch, two bags each with 8 flapjack bites or a couple of slices of banana malt loaf (=1 hour slow release energy). All apart from CP1 bag also had hula hoops plus extra salt sachets, and I stuck a pot of baked beans and a cheese and marmite butty in bags 3 and 4. I thought that I might appreciate a choice of food by that stage...
Drop bags packed, kit choice had to account for what looked like a pretty cold and wet forecast but on mostly firm trails. Andy had had the foresight of booking a couple of rooms at the West Highland Gate Premier Inn as soon as the date of the 2015 race was announced, so accommodation close to the start was sorted. We checked in after a smooth journey north, and turned in after a smooth couple of pints. The forecast was looking more promising...
After what seemed like about 2 hours sleep with my mind not wanting to switch off, the alarm went off at 4.15am (aka sparrow’s fart). Bleagh. Force down a pot of porridge and a coffee, and force out a trip to the toilet, then we’re out into the light rain of a suburban north Glasgow dawn, where we join a procession of folk stumbling up the road to the race start from other hotels, B&Bs and cars. It’s also ANZAC day, and a special one, being the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings – puts what we’re doing into some perspective.
We sling our drop bags into the back of cars to be hopefully reunited with them in a few hours time. Andy and Nick join the throng in the 10 hour target time section; I hang back at around the 12 hour target. And we’re off! It’s a good steady pace and I’m reassured that I remember the trail, it’s how I visualised it (probably at 2am when I couldn’t sleep). The rain grows lighter and then stops within an hour, and the trail heads out of the woods after a few miles, across a road, crests a small ridge and there, accompanied by a guy on a fiddle, the view opens up to reveal the hills – I let out a whoop it’s so chuffing beautiful!
Easy running through to Drymen (2 hours), which is a water stop and a much anticipated toilet as my guts catch up with what time it is! Oh well, there goes 5 mins off my time! The next section includes one of the biggest climbs, up Connic Hill and again epic views from the top with Loch Lomond stretched out below - another whoop! Try not to bounce down the steepish technical descent to CP1 at Balmaha (3.5 hours). Seven miles along the bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond to Rowardennan, and I try to have a conversation with another runner who turns out to have an incomprehensible Scots accent “Aye eurght meurthaye eh?” Er, yeah – about half past ten I think... ahem.
The marathon distance is passed at 5 hours and 10 mins later I’m at CP2 at Rowardennan. All the way along I’m carried by great memories of walking the WHW last year, the difference though is I’m not heading into the hostel for a beer, meal and kip, I’m cramming down my rice pud before heading off up the steady climb into the woods above the loch, then some technical trail to CP3 at Inversnaid (7 hours). Note to self: don’t pack banana malt loaf as it’s the chewiest substance in the known universe and impossible to swallow...
Dials still in the green, flapjack bites keeping me going between CPs, the loch is still there, it’s been a constant companion for the last 5 hours but the track eventually climbs away and drops down to CP4 at Beinglas (9 hours). My memory of here is of great beer and curry, but this time it’s more hula hoops, a cheese and marmite butty, rice pud and fruit pouches - I leave the baked beans and more banana malt loaf behind on the UNICEF-sized mound of food relief left by other runners, and dig in for the final 20k. Still feeling positive and on target for around 12 hours.
This section gets hillier with amazing views of Ben More and the Crianlarich hills (more memories of another trip, climbing these hills in winter conditions several years ago...) and then we’re in the forest, and probably the most excruciatingly quad-busting downhill I’ve experienced on a race. Not far now.
Through Strathfinnan, past a plaque marking a skirmish between Robert Bruce and the English and I know Tyndrum isn’t far. Then I hear him, the piper who marks the end of the race; then I hear Nick and Andy “come on Spartan”, I turn into the final 100m and it’s an amazing experience along a red carpet with what seems like throngs of people, kids high-fiving, flags, shouts, applause, a real sensory overload after the focus of the last ....12 hours 7 minutes.
Quite a journey.